Am I so out of touch?
No, it’s the children who are wrong.
-Principal Skinner, The Simpsons
Sometimes, I wonder if I am too boring to be a rabbi.
Ok, maybe not boring. I should probably substitute “boring” for “conventional.”
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When I was in rabbinical school, I felt a strong pull from influencers inside and outside of my studies that people who grew up as pure products of traditional Jewish institutions (i.e. people like me) could not understand how the Jewish world looks to people who never felt comfortable in those spaces.
I used to roll my eyes given the number of times I heard a variation of this statement. After all, what’s the point of investing in Jewish institutions if we do not elevate the success stories?
However, over time what I realized was that while it is valuable to create vibrant Jewish pipelines, leaders who grew up in those institutions need to constantly stretch their mental models to remember that most people they seek to serve are not like them.
In other words, don’t get too W.E.I.R.D.
Big Idea: W.E.I.R.D
Although this newsletter takes the unequivocal stance that Jewish leaders must keep up on trends related to psychology, economics, brain science, organizational development, etc., I would be setting anyone up to fail if I did not acknowledge that terms deemed “scientific” can also be critiqued.
And that’s why we need to learn about what it means to be W.E.I.R.D.
W.E.I.R.D is an acronym that refers to “western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic” societies. The United States is a W.E.I.R.D society, but so are Canada, Israel, and many countries with the largest Jewish populations (at least today). The term was coined by a group of researchers who pointed out that most research in psychology comes from studies that only sampled people from W.E.I.R.D countries, particularly the United States. Given that the majority of the world’s population does not live in W.E.I.R.D countries, and different societies value different things for various reasons, W.E.I.R.D is a reminder that oversampling one group versus another can make otherwise robust findings highly suspect.
Of course, almost all subscribers to this newsletter live in W.E.I.R.D countries, as does most of the world’s Jewish population, and W.E.I.R.D. is still a concept in formation. But W.E.I.R.D as a framework is an important reminder that the Jewish community needs to ask if our communal discourse is overly influenced by certain voices.
For example, I always find that Jewish communal discourse is disproportionately skewed towards the Y.O.U.T.H (Young, orthoprax,urban, technocratic, hetero-normative Jews), but that’s just me. And YES, I just came up with that acronym while writing this issue.
No matter where you work, what would you define as the equivalent of oversampling the W.E.I.R.D in your organization or community?
Book Summary: Change by Design
Focusing on W.E.I.R.D as a concept can lead people in many directions when thinking of a book recommendation. But for our purposes, the main question we need to ask is: Do Jewish leaders really know the audience they currently serve, and, perhaps just as importantly, seek to serve?
This is where design thinking becomes critical.
Many introductions to design thinking exist, but for this week we are going to focus on Change by Design by Tim Brown since he is the former CEO of IDEO, widely considered the most important design thinking firm in the world. In particular, design thinking is about “customer empathy.” Brown writes:
“It’s possible to spend days, weeks, or months conducting research…but at the end of it all we will have are little more than stacks of field notes, videotapes, and photographs unless we can connect with the people we are observing at a fundamental level. We call this “empathy,” and it is perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design thinking. We are not trying to generate new knowledge, test a theory, or validate a scientific hypothesis—that’s the work of our university colleagues and an indispensable part of our shared intellectual landscape. The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives” (Kindle Location 620).
My favorite way to help leaders start thinking about customer empathy is by doing a persona profile, a classic design thinking technique, where each person imagines the kind of person they seek to serve, and probes whether or not they really understand him/her/them. Here is a great instructional video to get you started.
The inverse of W.E.I.R.D, Brown wants people to be at the center of the story in our organizations, which requires making sure that we really know them.
Charlie Munger’s Brilliance: I cannot believe this is the fourth issue of Moneyball Judaism and I haven’t mentioned Charlie Munger. I’ll repent on Yom Kippur. But you should all read him. Here’s a good introduction, if you want to think (or this video, if you want to laugh).
The Pitfalls of Cryptocurrency and Philanthropy: I do not understand cryptocurrency, and yet I am fascinated by it (and unlike Charlie Munger's business partner Warren Buffett, I would take all the Bitcoin in the world for $25). That said, the world of using cryptocurrency in philanthropy is incredibly complicated, and anyone should read this investigation before getting too excited.
The Future of Family Philanthropy: Generally speaking, the largest donors to most Jewish organizations will be connected to a family foundation. Here’s an article on why we need to start thinking about how family philanthropy will change during an unprecedented generational exchange of wealth.
What I Learned About Interruption from Talk Radio: Given the percentage of meetings that now take place on Zoom, new norms are being created in terms of how people dialogue with one another (sometimes simply increasing bad habits from in-person meetings). But I loved this article from one woman’s experience of how talk radio taught her about meeting etiquette.
Economics of Quiet Quitting: I already mentioned this in the first issue, but Planet Money had an awesome podcast on the economics of quiet quitting. In particular, if you want to laugh, read listener-submitted ideas for alternative terms for “quiet quitting.” My personal favorite: “Acting your wage” (#DadJoke).
“The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” The Simpsons, Season Five, Episode Twenty.
The best estimate I found was that 80% of samples in psychological studies came from W.E.I.R.D countries, in spite of those countries only representing a little over 10% of the world’s population. See Mostafa Salari Rad, Alison Jane Martingano, and Jeremy Ginges, “Toward a psychology of Homo sapiens: Making psychological science more representative of the human population,” in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (2018). Accessed 24 September 2022.
Orthoprax is NOT the same thing as Orthodox, and the distinction is critical. Orthoprax essentially refers to the idea that certain rituals and practices form the core of a person’s religious identity, and what they believe about those practices is of secondary importance. In Orthodox Judaism, sometimes the term “social Orthodox” is used to describe a similar set of behaviors.
But for our purposes, how much conventional wisdom in the Jewish community over the past twenty years has been shaped by the viewpoints of young Jews who attend thriving urban synagogues, partnership minyanim, independent minyanim, or spiritually emergent communities? To be clear, I LOVE all of the kinds of communities I just mentioned and am a member of an independent minyan and a thriving urban synagogue, but I fit into the category of Y.O.U.T.H (minus the “young” part), and most Jews don’t…
Someone I know used to cynically joke that many false narratives in the Jewish community were shaped over Shabbat dinners on the Upper West Side of New York City or the German Colony in Jerusalem. And yes, I am that “someone” =).
I just heard from a woman who commented on two rabbis' sermons: One she loved because she could understand it and relate to it. The other she admired but didn't understand some of the English words. KISS.
Can you do a "persona profile" on God? It's certainly easier to be data driven about people's needs than about an ineffable Creator. Still, how does this model translate into religious environment ultimately oriented towards serving God as well? Not sure if Tim Brown has a triangle of parties in his customer model (for a transcendent dimension, perhaps he would speak about "principles"). I could be a skeptic and say that a persona profile on God sounds like an adult ed class gone wrong, but perhaps it's just the opposite.